The Novice by Taran Matharu
- Series: #1 The Summoner
- Publisher: Hodder Children’s
- Publication Date: May 2015
When blacksmith apprentice Fletcher discovers that he has the ability to summon demons from another world, he travels to Adept Military Academy. There the gifted are trained in the art of summoning. Fletcher is put through grueling training as a battlemage to fight in the Hominum Empire’s war against orcs. He must tread carefully while training alongside children of powerful nobles. The power hungry, those seeking alliances, and the fear of betrayal surround him. Fletcher finds himself caught in the middle of powerful forces, with only his demon Ignatius for help.
As the pieces on the board maneuver for supremacy, Fletcher must decide where his loyalties lie. The fate of an empire is in his hands. The Novice is the first in a trilogy about Fletcher, his demon Ignatius, and the war against the Orcs.
I recently read ‘The Novice’ by Taran Matharu and it was absolutely brilliant. I loved it, and I would definitely recommend it to others. Here are five reasons why:
- THE OPENING IS SIMPLY FANTASTIC
The first chapter of ‘The Novice’ has to be one of the best openings I have ever read, if not the best. It is so captivating, in fact, that as soon as I finished it I passed it over to my dad and got him to read it, too, because I wanted someone to share it and talk about it with. It made my dad very eager to read on but luckily I got the book back so I could do so first.
The opening is tense as Fletcher is hunting and very hungry, it immediately and vividly establishes the setting for the novel and world-builds, it has a twist at the end, and, most importantly, because Fletcher is treated unfairly in it, it has the reader immediately on Fletcher’s side. We establish a connection with Fletcher which lasts for the whole novel and we cheer him on and wish for him to succeed and prevail against the odds. Fletcher is one of the most likeable characters I have read about, and in my mind he has joined the ranks of Harry Potter and Percy Jackson – at times awkward male protagonists you cannot help but grow very attached to, ones who face adversity but unexpectedly overcome it.
- ‘THE NOVICE’ IS FULL OF STRIKING AND VIVID CHARACTERS
Fletcher is not the only wonderful character in this novel – far from it. He is joined by an excellent cast of other characters. Standouts for me are Berdon, the blacksmith to whom Fletcher is apprentice and who touchingly treats Fletcher as a son rather than a worker, Othello the wise-beyond-his-years dwarf who has had himself tattooed identically to his volatile brother Atilla so that he can get Atilla out of trouble, and Sylva, the elf who is immediately hostile but who undergoes change and realisation after her life is threatened. All the teachers at the Vocans Academy are great too, from the loyal and friendly Captain Lovett to the hostile and challenging Rook. I think that Fletcher’s mentor Arcturus is my favourite of the teachers.
- THE WORLD-BUILDING IS GREAT
The world-building in this novel is brilliant. We learn lots about the history of the Hominum Empire, about its present, and also about possibilities for its future. Taran Matharu manages to get the balance exactly right between giving enough detail to capture the reader’s imagination and not giving so much that it becomes at all overwhelming or excessive. We see the racist attitudes of the largely corrupt Pinkertons and the general human public towards the elves and the dwarves. Taran Matharu also establishes traditions for the dwarves and elves – like that the female dwarves wear veils – which make them feel more vivid and real. I really liked the explanation for why they wear veils. Additionally, the writing is very atmospheric, capturing the bustle of the marketplaces, the reaction of crowds, the architecture of the summoning academy…this allows the reader to vividly imagine all the scenes and settings.
- THE DEMONOLOGY IS ALSO GREAT
I have read plenty of books that feature demons (The Mortal Instruments, The Dark Days Club etc). It is a crowded theme, but in spite of this Taran Matharu manages to bring something totally new to the table and it’s very refreshing. He reverses expectations – when Fletcher summons a demon I was expecting a ferocious and hideous beast, but actually Ignatius, Fletcher’s demon, is mostly adorable (until he gets into a fight and breathes fire to singe and scorch his enemies!). He curls up in Fletcher’s hood and purrs. I would really like to have a Salamander demon like Ignatius!
Additionally, I love the fact that you cannot talk to your summoned demons – instead of sensing your words they sense your emotions and so, whenever Ignatius is concerned or upset, Fletcher has to send him calming thoughts. There are also many other fascinating aspects to summoning and controlling demons in this novel – the idea of fulfilment, which is a summoner’s capacity for summoning demons – infusion, where a summoner absorbs their demon into themselves and their demon is able to process some of what is happening through the summoner’s eyes, and scrying.
There are also many different types of demons, from the dog-like Canid and cat-like Felid to hydras and minotaurs. The demon species are imaginative and inventive. The paperback edition has a really helpful guide to these at the back.
- THE NOVEL IS GRIPPING
You know it’s a great book when you are reading and you really need to go and do something else and you think to yourself ‘Just one more chapter!’, but you end up reading another five chapters before you are forced to put the book down. I experienced this every time I picked up ‘The Novice’. It is a gripping and fun read, and there are mini cliffhangers at the ends of chapters which keep you reading on. It’s exciting and fast-paced, with several twists. It ends with a cliff-hanger but the best news is that the first sequel is already out so you don’t have to be suspended from the cliff for very long at all! I’m bursting to read the sequel and am so glad I chose to read ‘The Novice’ now when ‘The Inquisition’ already came out in May.
Although the novel is targeted at a Young Adult audience, it is one of those universally enjoyable reads that will appeal to a much larger audience. Additionally, I saw a comment in which this novel was compared to Harry Potter. Usually Harry Potter (and also The Hunger Games ones although I didn’t enjoy that series as much) comparisons earn a sign from me because they are handed around a lot now, but actually with ‘The Novice’ I really see it and I think it is very deserving of that comparison. It is perfect for fans of HP.
‘The Novice’ is also only 99p at the moment on Amazon Kindle UK!